The intense debate over the benefits and risks of intensive livestock operations (ILO), especially large hog farms, has clouded the real issues. The media has not helped either, preferring to highlight entrenched positions, neighbours against neighbours.
The argument over ILOs is not about food, farming, nor simply odours. It is about excessive concentration. The large concentrations of food, that we do not eat, leave the area through vertically integrated supply chains. The large concentrations of putrid manure threaten our environment and our quality of life. They are treated as waste and not as valuable sustainable resources The government focus has been on containment instead of quality.
Farming cannot concentrate like other manufacturing industries because we are dealing with biological systems and not widgets. Biological systems react to our management practices. The contemporary practice of mono-cropping of either field crops or concentrated animals creates a breeding ground for disease, reliance on antibiotics, and the massive displacement of nutrients.
People want food and people want farmers, but not any kind of food nor farms. People want diversity, quality, great taste, and excellent texture produced in a country side that is appreciated as much for its food as for its beauty and its lifestyle.
There are ways to produce pork or any livestock that are friendly to the animal, the farmers, the environment, the neighbours and the consumers. The mixed farm, both small and large reduces the concentrations of single species. The diversity reduces the farmer's risk and leverages the complementarity of the enterprises. Direct marketing improves the margins on smaller herds. Local economies put people in touch with each other and they work together for a common goal. Local slaughterhouses and processors facilitate the links between the producers and their markets.
Dry bedding packs bind the nitrogen and carbon and eliminate the odours. Proper composting manages the valuable manure resource without environmental impacts. Diet changes that favour more forages and less grains solidify the manure and reduce the odours. Putting hogs on pasture improves the health of the animal, reduces the use of antibiotics, and improves the flavour of the meat. Selecting species for both meat quality and outdoor production wins friends everywhere.
Let's drop the limited arguments over ILOs. Let's work on better ways to produce good food in a local economy.
Because small is beautiful.